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Blockchain for Military Defense: 7 Practical Use Cases

  • 9 November 2018
  • Sam Mire

It’s estimated that due to significant budget cuts, as many as 17,000 first-tier prime vendors may have abandoned the defense market between 2011 and 2015. This decline in military contractors may or may not be reconcilable, but in the face of this decline, it’s imperative that any form of field-leveling technology also be embraced to ensure that the U.S. defense sector does not fall any further behind. Though the 2018 budget for the defense sector came in just under $700 billion, this sum alone does not tell the entire story and is not an indicator that the American military cannot use more technological assistance — it can.

Military members are an increasingly small percentage of the U.S. population, down to 8% of Americans in 2014 from 17% in 1990. Yet our security concerns as a nation are as pressing as ever, if not more so, with a wider number of threats taking a more complex array of forms. Yet technology is still lacking in some respects. Despite 15 years of development and more than $17 billion invested, the military’s attempt at developing a “universal radio” for communication leaves much to be desired.

While the blockchain should never be put forth as a cure-all, there’s belief that the military’s supply chains, cyber security, and in-field as well as inter-branch communications could benefit from facets of blockchain technology. With the world seemingly on edge and America’s military manpower seemingly on the decline, exploring how blockchain can be used for defense purposes is a worthwhile pursuit.

Blockchain for military defense - Practical use cases


Tracing Defense-Related Shipments and Contracts

Blockchain use cases in the military defense industry - Tracing Defense Shipments-Contracts

With most industries, supply chain is critical to maintaining the bottom line through reducing losses, waste, and fraud. In the defense industry, the stakes are always higher, and therefore the imperative to maintain supply chain security is greater. While everybody can agree that we need to support the troops, the defense industry is not above financial loss and waste — quite the contrary, actually. The Pentagon estimated that the cost of wasteful and misguided expenditures in Afghanistan-related spending totals $17 billion. The Pentagon employs more than 600,000 private contractors and awarded $304 billion to corporate contractors in 2016.

Obviously, there are limits to how much oversight the civilian population and politicians can have over military affairs and spending, but a general idea of where these funds are going and how they’re being used would be nice. William Hartung has made it his mission to audit military spending himself, and he has not been pleased with many of his findings. These include $2.7 billion spent on a non-functional air surveillance balloon, $150 million on private villas for personnel in Afghanistan, $640 for a toilet seat, and $7,600 for a coffee pot. Fiscal accountability aside, the military should simply have the most advanced, secure supply chain management tools, and blockchain technology falls in that category.

If a shipment goes unaccounted for in the defense sector, the result could be some really bad guys ending up with potentially lethal weapons. Needless to say, the stakes are higher when it comes to effectively tracing the weapons, gear, and other items that are essential to facilitating national defense at home and abroad. This makes the companies conceiving the most cutting-edge supply chain oversight platforms on the blockchain some of the most critical blockchain-related innovators there are. And considering the amount of questionable spending in the sector, this oversight could be beneficial for civilian accountability purposes, too. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem


Secure Government and Battlefield Messaging

Blockchain use cases in the military defense industry - Secure Government & Battlefield Messaging

When Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon expressed concern that the U.S. Military was not taking advantage of the STARTTLS encryption technology in their email communications, such a sentiment likely took many by surprise. In fact, DISA, the protocols that mandate protection of emails by the Department of Defense, was one of the few agencies that had not begun incorporating encryption as of 2015. Instead, they stated that they reject 85% of emails outright, and investigate the remaining 15% for advanced, persistent cybersecurity threats.

It’s difficult to believe that the U.S. military’s encryption departments don’t know what they’re doing, and we’re not suggesting that. However, as with each use case, it’s possible that they could add a measure of automation through blockchain cryptographic encryption techniques, reducing the cost of oversight not just for email, but other forms of interagency and in-field communications. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem


Preparing for the Age of Cyber Warfare

Blockchain use cases in the military defense industry - Cyber Warfare Preparedness

The line between a cyber attack that is simply a for-profit heist and one that qualifies as an act of war can be quite thin. Taking precautions against either is critical, but it’s not difficult to see that acts of cyber warfare are a more daunting problem than a ransomware intrusion against a corporation. The federal government was the target of 61,000 cyber attacks last year, each of varying levels of danger.

It’s a widely-held viewpoint that the U.S. energy sector, with its connected grids and dependence on computing and connected technologies, may be the most vulnerable point for a critical cyber attack. The energy industry was the most targeted sector by hackers in 2014, with 79 incidents recorded. Roughly 55% of those attacks were conducted by advanced persistent threats (APT), which is a way of saying that they were sophisticated hackers. The blockchain may not be a prevent-all solution — in fact, it’s certainly not — but we know that it is a more advanced launching point for security infrastructure than centralized fail points, which are the makings of a doomsday scenario, considering the topic at hand.

Whether it means protecting power grids, computer systems, or insulating other potentially vulnerable networks from cyber intrusion, creating all-encompassing defenses against cyber threats is one of the top priorities of the defense industry. High-level blockchains are known for their security, as they can alert those in charge of security to potentially hostile anomalies in the system and limit the damage incurred. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • U.S. Government – Donald Trump signed a military spending bill mandating research into blockchain technologies for cybersecurity.
  • GuardTime Deploying blockchain solutions for security and protecting hardware.  

Improving Additive Manufacturing for the Military

Blockchain use cases in the military defense industry - Military Additive Manufacturing

In September 2018, it was reported that the United States military had begun constructing an on-site concrete barrack using 3D printing techniques. The USMCSC (US Marine Corps Shipments Command) completed the 500-square foot prototype in only 40 hours, utilizing what is now being referred to as the “world’s largest 3D printer.” It’s far from the first example of how the U.S. defense sector is testing the limits, and benefits, of additive manufacturing. In July 2017, the Marine Corps printed the first 3D-printed submarine hull using their Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine. In June of the same year, they were able to successfully create a nibbler drone using additive manufacturing. In April, the Army showed off yet more applications for 3D printing technology, including grenade launchers, body armor, and customizing military meals.

It’s clear that the defense industry has embraced the art of 3D printing. But how could their processes be improved even more with blockchain technology? Just as the chain can serve as a more secure transmission tool for data, proprietary additive manufacturing blueprints and designs could be shared on a private blockchain, as opposed to being stored centrally. As the technology evolves and possibilities are realized, the military may find alternate ways to marry blockchain technology and their emergent reliance upon additive manufacturing tools.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • U.S. Navy – Using Blockchain to power next-gen 3D printing security.

NATO Applications: Military, Logistics, Finance

Blockchain use cases in the military defense industry - NATO Applications

As part of the 2016 NCI Challenge, innovators were encouraged to share ideas, including ideas in the category of “military applications of blockchains” that would allow better cooperation between members of NATO. NATO, along with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has also announced their intention to assist members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by implementing blockchain solutions. With 29 member countries spanning Europe and North America, communications among member nations must span borders and, because of the United States’ participation, the Atlantic Ocean.

Established in 1949, NATO agreements are always evolving and in something of a state of flux, as evidenced by the 2014 agreement that allies would move toward investing 2% of their GDP into defense spending by 2024. In the 2017 meeting, the members discussed how to better align to fight terror and how to implement fairer burden-sharing, especially in terms of defense. While each annual meeting is critical to improving the alliance, communications in the interim must also be easy, secure, and accessible by all member nations.

Proposals for NATO blockchain applications include streamlining and closely tracking payments and goods transfers between members and aid recipients, decentralizing military logistics in a secure manner, and the general sharing of information between members in a way that is easily accessible, tamper-proof, and secure.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem


Preventing Data Theft, Protecting International Supply Chains

The world’s largest powers are all in a race to implement blockchain technology, and there is no use case more apparent for military application than defense against outside threats. Ironically, the likes of China, Russia, and the United States — the nations with the most sophisticated digital weaponry — are in the midst of an arms race to find out how they can use blockchain as a blockade against each others’ digital spear chucking. Even smaller nations have proven viable threats to national security without even having to set foot on their enemies’ soil. In October 2017, it was reported that North Korea was behind the cyber theft of 235 gigabytes of classified information belonging to American and South Korean intelligence departments.  

The Department of Defense is directly responsible for shielding a global network of 3.2 million personnel from cyber attack. But beyond that, they must protect the massive stores of classified and highly-sensitive information that the Department is constantly generating, and the “terabyte of death” — a phrase assigned to the likely theft of a massive cache of classified information by foreign actors — is a matter of when, not if, according to the DoD. In other words, defense departments the world over can use all the help available when it comes to playing the defensive game.

The military utilizes international supply chains with regularity — it’s a necessary aspect of attaining the best materials and keeping costs down. However, the digital age has presented a new kind of threat that promises attempted disruptions of essential international military supply chains, whether through the attack of critical infrastructure, specific transactions, or the ledgers that govern international military operations. The military is already experimenting with, and likely perfecting, the ways in which blockchain technology can effectively detect and block penetrative attempts aimed at disrupting, obtaining, or eradicating records pertaining to military transactions and supply chains.  

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Russian ERA The Russian military technology accelerator is developing blockchain systems to prevent security breaches. 

Protecting and Perfecting Weapons Systems

Blockchain use cases in the military defense industry - Protecting Weapons Systems

Military threats and offensive campaigns are becoming increasingly digital, which makes many people envision tech whizzes stationed behind the most advanced computers the world has to offer, detecting outside attacks and launching their own offensives against adversaries. This is not an unrealistic perception of where the military is going, but more traditional weapons of war remain at the forefront of battle, and the Navy’s Aegis Combat System, an essential aspect of many naval destroyers, combines the digitization of the military with traditional weaponry. The sea-based ballistic missile defense system has become an increasing comfort as rhetoric is ramped up and the global military climate becomes increasingly tenuous. But preserving the integrity of Aegis’ underlying computing and radar capabilities is critical to its function, as well as the need to ensure that Aegis’ blueprints don’t fall into the hands of adversaries.

The blockchain could soon be used to decentralize the data necessary to operate the Aegis Combat System. As with any computer-dependent system, the centralized nature of the Aegis System leaves it open to the threat of hack. And if the Aegis is successfully hacked, then the entire vessel may be compromised along with it. Providing blockchain-level security for the Aegis’ — and other military weapons’ and systems’ — critical data could ensure that all incoming information is accurate, and that these lethal weapons remain as insulated as possible from outside threats. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • DARPA  Partnered with Galois to create blockchain based weapons monitoring. 
  • GuardTime  Partnered with LockheedMartin to secure physical systems.
About Sam Mire

Data journalist and market research analyst focused on emerging technology, trends, and ideas.

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